"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Cheap Charter Solution Eliminates Retiree Health Care

The new urban model for K-12 education in New Orleans has a new strategy for attracting only the most desperate educators who can't compete for teaching jobs in the suburban public systems that still have benefits for their teachers: Along with no job security, the new poor community solution offers no health benefits for retired teachers.  From the Times Picauyne:
For teacher Dennis Mischler the road to retirement will take an unexpected, last-minute twist.

The 30-year veteran had planned to end his career at Lusher Charter School, where he has taught fifth grade for the past five years. But this school year Mischler faced an agonizing choice. He could spend his last semester teaching at Lusher and forgo retirement health benefits, or move to a non-charter school run directly by the Orleans Parish school system, and retire with medical benefits.

When it became a charter school more than two years ago, Lusher's teachers were placed on a leave of absence from the Orleans Parish school system for three years. District officials said state charter law required that teachers at schools converting from traditional programs to charters be put on leave for the three-year period. That means unless the teachers return from "leave," the retiree health and life insurance benefits they worked toward in the old system will be lost.

The unique predicament illustrates the unanticipated wrinkles that can arise in a school system that transformed into a system of mostly charter schools at unprecedented speed -- and must now try to share a limited pool of money and teachers. It also shows the challenges that charter schools can face in offering the services and benefits that a central office -- and the collective buying power of a large school system -- would have provided in the past.

If he stayed at Lusher, Mischler would still be eligible for the basic retirement benefits through the state retirement system for public school teachers. It's a share of the ancillary retirement benefits, like medical and life insurance, that the Orleans Parish school system provides, but nearly all charter schools do not.

. . . .

Like other employers, charter schools are in no way obligated to offer retiree health care as a benefit. Huffstutler, 61, said the Lusher teachers knew they were taking a three-year leave of absence from the district when the school became a charter. But she's not sure they all realized the ramifications for retirement benefits.

"At some point, the (school) board is going to say, 'We are not going to hire someone back for a semester just so we can pay insurance for them for the rest of their life,' " said Brian Riedlinger, chief executive officer of the Algiers Charter Schools Association, a cooperative that manages nine charter schools. "That doesn't make sense."

. . . .

Some charter operators have studied ways to add more retirement benefits, but cost remains a steep obstacle. Riedlinger said that, for the Algiers Charter Schools Association, "the decision was made early on that it would just destroy us" to offer retiree health benefits. "We knew it was going to be a problem early on," he said. . . .

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